Picture Book Fun….

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Inly’s third graders have begun taking their first “spring steps” toward Upper Elementary (4th-6th grade), and part of their journey includes an extra weekly library class where we have time to go beyond a story and checking out books. This year we are focusing on the Caldecott Award and picture book illustrations.

During the first week, we looked at Molly Bang’s classic Picture This: How Pictures Work. Published in 1991, Bang’s book shows how shape and color impact the way a story is told and how those components impact our emotions. This past Friday, the kids were faced with a big stack of Caldecott Medal and Honor Books – dating back to Madeline, which received a silver Honor Book sticker in 1940.  Post-it notes on the covers stated the year a book won, but they were all mixed up. The kids put them in order from oldest to newest around the circle in the library. After that, they chose their seat and began looking!

Next week we will look at the many books that were predicted to be contenders for the 2019 Medal. The award has already been announced, but we will start with a big pile of books and see if they agree with the committee’s decision. Ultimately, the kids will choose which illustration style they like the best and then we will move on to the creative phase.  More to come on that….

In other picture book news, you have to check out Greg Pizzoli’s new book, Book Hog. In fact, book lovers may want to add a copy to their personal library. Pizzoli’s sweet and brightly colored story is a celebration of books. The main character, a pig, loves books. His problem is: “He didn’t know how to read. He had never learned.” There are lots of charming touches here – a kind librarian, the way the book spines change as the Book Hog learns to read, and my favorite: Wilbur’s is the name of the local bookstore (check out the upstairs window)!

Finally, Mary took this picture of the light shining on the walls of the library this week (while we were setting up for a meeting). It’s the perfect picture to represent what a library does…

 

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Two New Montessori Books….

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If you are a Montessori parent or teacher – or a parent who wants to learn more about integrating Montessori principles into your home – there are two new books to add to your collection.

The Montessori Toddler: A Parent’s Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being by Simone Davies will be out on March 19. I don’t have the “real” book yet, but thanks to Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature, I’m able to see the wide range of topics Davies covers: an Introduction to Maria Montessori, Setting Up the Home, Nurturing Cooperation and Responsibility, What We Need to Know About Toddlers, Montessori Principles, and Montessori Activities – among other topics.  In true Montessori fashion, the book is simply and beautifully designed.

The book’s author, Simone Davies, has been a Montessori educator for 15 years and is associated with the Jacaranda Tree Montessori playgroup in Amsterdam. She also has a wonderful blog (that I just spent way too much time on!) called The Montessori Notebook. (https://www.themontessorinotebook.com/blog/)

If I had one wish as a librarian at a Montessori school, it was for a simple biography of Maria Montessori. It is one of the most requested items in the library, and outside of a page about the Italian educator and physician in Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, there is no contemporary children’s books about the woman whose name is on the front of over 4,000 schools in the United States. But now….

One of the most recent installments in the The Little People, Big Dreams series of picture books is about Maria Montessori. I think of the Little People, Big Dreams series as a younger version of the popular “Who Was” series. The Who Was books are divided into chapters and can go into a bit more detail than the Little People books, but both series provide introductions to well known people:

Because of limited space in the library, I have resisted the urge to purchase all of the Little People series, but the Maria Montessori volume will be on display right after spring break, and I’m sure it will be read aloud in many of our classrooms.

Happy Reading!

 

Winter Reading….

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There is one bonus to being on medical leave during the winter – lots of time to read!  While I’ll be happy to return to school soon, it has been nice to look at the thermometer, remember I don’t have to go outside, and reach for my book.  Here’s what I’ve been reading for the past six weeks….

Middle England by Jonathan Coe

At over 400 pages, this novel took the longest to read. I first read about it on a few English newspaper websites, but this endorsement from the author John Boyne tipped me over into the “buy” column: “Millions of words have been and will be written on Brexit but few will get to the heart of why it is happening as incisively as Middle England.”  Maybe I was tired of reading about the dysfunction in my own country so I decided to dive into another flavor of anxiety.  What I really like about Middle England is its broad sweep. The novel begins eight years before the Brexit vote and follows a cast of characters representing multiple points of view. By the time Coe reaches the actual “stay or leave” vote, I had a deeper understanding of England – and America’s – identity crisis.

Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home by Nora Krug

This acclaimed memoir by a German woman learning about her family’s history during WWII is an immersive experience. A blend of a graphic novel, a scrapbook, and a memoir, Krug’s book is demanding and thoughtful. It is not a traditional reading experience – rather I found myself engaging with each page visually and emotionally. I felt like I was traveling alongside the author as she uncovers her family’s story and asks hard questions. Krug understands that history exists in the grey space – she does not conclude with a list of who was right and who was wrong. History and family are more complex than that. You reach the end of her memoir shocked again at the atrocities of Nazi-era Germany and thinking about your own cultural heritage and the meaning of “home.”

Someday We Will Fly by Rachel Dewoskin

I read this young adult novel in advance of adding it to Inly’s middle school summer reading list. At the center of the story is Lillia, a fifteen-year-old Polish girl who, with her father and baby sister, escape to Shanghai during WWII. Lillia’s parents were circus performers in Poland, but during a chaotic raid, her mother disappears, leaving the rest of her family to hope for her return. As Lillia makes a new life in Shanghai, she struggles with missing her mother and trying to find ways to make money to help her family survive. The most interesting part of the book was learning about the Jewish community that lived in Shanghai during WWII. China was occupied by Japanese forces at the time, but the Japanese allowed the Jewish refugees to stay because, as Lillia’s dad explains to her, “Apparently the Japanese believe Jews are powerful…..as long as they believe we control Western governments, we should be fine. Who knew there’d be such a silver lining to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories?” A good pick for mature teenagers who enjoy historical fiction.

Inventing Victoria by Tonya Bolden

Continuing the young adult historical fiction segment of the list, I read Tonya Bolden’s new novel about Essie, a young African American woman living in post-Civil War Savannah. At the opening of the novel, Essie lives with her mother in a brothel. Her mother calls the men who visit “uncles,” but Essie knows there is no future with her mother, and with the support of a friend, finds a housekeeping position in a respectable boardinghouse. One of the guests, an African American woman named Dorcas Vashon, gives Essie an opportunity – to be her companion. “I seek out young women of promise,” Dorcas tells Essie. Essie takes the opportunity, renames herself Victoria, and begins a new life among the African American elite in Baltimore. This book addresses race, status, and identity – and it’s perfect for readers ages 14 and over. I really liked this one.

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

Since reading about the meteoric rise of Sally Rooney, the twenty-seven year old literary superstar, I’ve wanted to read both of her novels: Conversations With Friends and Normal People. Rooney’s press has been glowing. A New Yorker profile is captioned: “The Irish writer has been hailed as the first great millennial novelist for her stories of love and late capitalism.” Normal People was longlisted for the Booker Prize and was the 2018 Waterstones Book of the Year. So, with that as background music, I enthusiastically jumped into Conversations With Friends.  The writing is brilliant – I was so dazzled by some of the sentences that I would stop, reverse direction, and re-read a passage. But overall, I felt like I did when I would occasionally watch Girls, the Lena Dunham HBO series: that this is a generation I don’t recognize. The novel is compelling, kind of dark, and for me, a look inside a world that is far from my experience. That’s not a complaint. I’m grateful for Rooney’s honest look at the concerns of modern twenty-somethings. I’ll recommend Conversations with Friends to people in their 20s and 30s – and those who want to better understand what it feels like to be young today.

While I’ve been out of school, Mary has sent me lots of pictures from the Library. Here are two that I love and make me excited to go back to school:

A few more days at home – time to fit in one more book from my “to read” pile….

A Year-End Mix….

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One of the most common questions we hear in the Inly Library is about recommending books to young readers who can read beyond their age level. It can be challenging to identify good books for an eight-year-old who has the reading skills – but not the emotional maturity – of a twelve-year-old. This article from last Sunday’s NYT Book Review has some good suggestions:

Another topic that parents regularly ask about is rereading. Some kids love reading the same book over and over again – it can be confusing to their parents, but makes perfect sense to the new reader. Children alternate through periods of reading things that are very familiar and comfortable before being ready to move into new kinds of books and more challenging material. That back-and-forth is completely age appropriate and important to their growth as readers.

The book I’m currently reading, Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan, includes this paragraph:

“But for children, rereading is absolutely necessary. The act of reading is itself still new. A lot of energy is still going into (not so) simple decoding of words and the assimilation of meaning. Only then do you get to enjoy the plot – to begin to get lost in the story. And only after you are familiar with the plot are you free to enjoy, mull over; break down and digest all the rest. The beauty of a book is that it remains the same for as long as you need it. It’s like being able to ask a teacher or parent to repeat again and again some piece of information or point of fact you haven’t understood with the absolute security of knowing that he/she will do so infinitely. You can’t wear out a book’s patience.”

Finally….one of the best parts of working in a school library is finding notes like this one – a reminder of how important this work is and how lucky we are to be part of the journey…

This blog will return in February 2019. Until then, I wish you a Happy New Year and lots of good books!

 

Notes from the Inly Library….

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Every so often, when the kids least expect it, I “close” the graphic novel section.

I love graphic novels as much as they do, but after a few months of watching our Lower Elementary students making a bee-line for the graphic novel section every time they walk in, I thought the rest of the library may be feeling ignored.   That’s the joy of being a teacher-librarian, rather than working in a public library where this action would not be an option. The “teacher” part of my work means I have a responsibility to introduce kids to all kinds of books and to create an environment that encourages curiosity and browsing.

After the anticipated moans and groans, the kids begin exploring areas they haven’t visited in a while: the Who Was series, stand-alone early chapter books, and even picture books. The graphic novels will be available for check-out next week, but truthfully, I think the kids kind of enjoyed the chance to venture beyond Dog Man.

Some of the students had fun trying to persuade me to change my mind. It didn’t work.

Our Lower Elementary students have been talking about race and skin color. There are a number of excellent age appropriate books to spark meaningful conversations with young children. Here are four of my favorites:

Skin Again by bell hooks

The Colors of Us by Karen Katz

Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin

The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler

If you’re looking for good information about how to talk with kids about race, check out this resource from the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association.

https://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2018/05/talking-with-young-children-0-5-about-race/

As part of their work, the children in one classroom used a lens to look closely at their hands and then “made” their hand using multicultural construction paper. Here are three especially wonderful results:

After reading another glowing review of Inkling, Kenneth Oppel’s new middle grade novel, I read it last week.

It’s wonderful, and will definitely be added to my Best of 2018 list. From the novel’s opening pages, it felt like something fresh and new. Inkling is the story of…..an inkblot. Not your typical protagonist, I know, but this inkblot has personality. The human at the center of the novel is Ethan, whose father is a famous graphic novel artist. Naturally, Ethan’s friends think Ethan must be just like his dad so they make him the artist for a joint school project.  But then he meets Inkling who can draw, among other talents. One of the many cool things about this book is that the pages themselves have ink blotches on them, giving the reader an immersive experience. This is the perfect book for a graphic novel fan or a budding artist.

My list of middle grade and middle school novels to read is long, but I’m now reading Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming. I’ve been looking forward to it for months, and I’m finding it to be a relief from the daily onslaught of unsettling news. It’s a good choice for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

Happy Reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

A Children’s Book Miscellany….

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If you know a child who loves the outdoors or a teacher who enthusiastically shares an appreciation for nature with her students, a new book of poetry may be the perfect gift. At $40.00, Sing a Song of Seasons is not an impulse buy, but it is an investment in beauty, both natural and written. With a poem for every day of the year, this is a book that should “live” in a central place. I’m tempted to make it a New Year’s Resolution and start each day with reading the poem of the day – rather than the headlines. It would also be a good way for teachers to begin the day with their students.

Sing a Song of Seasons, edited by Fiona Waters, includes all kinds of poems – funny and celebratory and reflective. Taken together, this book may will instill an appreciation of natural world at a time when we need to work together to protect it.

Here’s the poem for yesterday, November 11:

The Fog by F.R. McCreary

Slowly the fog,
Hunched-shouldered with a grey face,
Arms wide, advances,
Fingertips touching the way
Past the dark houses
And dark gardens of roses.
Up the short street from the harbour,
Slowly the fog,
Seeking, seeking;
Arms wide, shoulders hunched,
Searching, searching,
Out through the streets to the fields,
Slowly the fog-
A blind man hunting the moon.

Another book that celebrates the outdoors….

I ordered a copy of The Forest after seeing it on the 2018 New York Times list of the Best Illustrated Children’s Books. This book surprised me from the minute I opened the package. At 72 pages, it is not a traditional picture book. The illustrations by Violeta Lopiz and Valerio Vidali are vivid and spectacular, but I’m not sure who the audience is – maybe art students. The book is a journey through life in the form of the forest, but it’s the paper engineering that is most striking. The embossed pages and gatefolds make The Forest a fascinating piece of book making, but not an easy book to describe.

A book to look forward to….

Matthew Cordell, the author and illustrator of the Caldecott winning picture book, Wolf in the Snow, has a new project. Cordell is going to write and illustrate the authorized picture book biography of Fred Rogers. The book’s title will be….Hello, Neighbor!  A little bit of a wait – the book will be published in 2020.

Barnes and Noble News…

There’s been lots of speculation about the future of Barnes and Noble, the largest bookstore chain in the U.S. I’ve read about struggling stores, the revolving door of CEO’s, and their efforts to diversify by becoming a “lifestyle” store rather than a traditional bookstore. You can see the result of their move into toys and games by walking into any Barnes and Noble and trying to find books among the Funko Pop figures that, at least in the Hingham store, claim a lot of space. Yesterday I read that the British retail chain, W.H Smith, expressed interest in buying Barnes and Noble, but the deal fell through. Like many readers, I hope Barnes and Noble stays in business. It’s good for publishers and good for readers. I love Buttonwood, my local independent bookstore, but sometimes I enjoy getting a pile of magazines, ordering a mocha, and sitting in the cafe at Barnes and Noble. Print sales are rising and independent bookstores are succeeding. Barnes and Noble should be able to make it.

The picture at the top….

is a teacher at Inly reading a book to her students. It was one of those perfect moments that I had to capture…Happy Reading!

 

 

Tommy Orange Visits Inly

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Tommy Orange, the author of the novel There There spoke at Inly last Thursday evening.

There There, longlisted for the National Book Award and a finalist for the Carnegie Medal is the debut novel by Orange, a member of the Cheyenne tribe. The novel took him six years to write, but it has made the author a new literary star. “Yes, Tommy Orange’s New Novel Is Really That Good” reads the title of the New York Times review of There There. Another New York Times article about Orange’s describes There There as a “new kind of American epic.”  Maureen Corrigan, reviewing the novel for Fresh Air, said:

There There is distinguished not only by Orange’s crackling style, but by its unusual subject. This is a novel about urban Indians, about native peoples who know, as he says, “the sound of the freeway better than [they] do rivers … the smell of gas and freshly wet concrete and burned rubber better than [they] do the smell of cedar or sage…”

The Inly program was a conversation between Tommy and Nina McLaughlin, a columnist for the Boston Globe whose first book, Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter was published in 2015. Nina wrote the Globe’s review of There There which is linked here:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2018/06/14/what-indian/2GsJ8G2XHSo6YRYUZq72IL/story.html

The conversation was rich and meaningful, mostly because Tommy and Nina were natural and genuine. It truly felt like a conversation.

Nina began by asking Tommy about the explosive end to his novel. “I knew the end before I knew the beginning,” he told her. “I knew the characters’ lives would converge at a powwow.”

Talking about his polyphonic novel, Tommy described his writing process as “auditioning voices to see who felt convincing.” Over the six years it took him to write There There, Tommy estimates that he “tried 40 or 50 characters.”

Especially lovely was the way Tommy talked about novels, which he said “can do anything.” He was moved by A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole and the work of Sylvia Plath. He described their work as having “sadness with levity.” Their writing, he said, “transcended their own sadness.”  Discussing his love of polyphonic novels, he mentioned, among others, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.

Nina also asked Tommy to talk about the many mirrors and reflections in There There. “Growing up,” he responded, “Native people don’t see themselves very often. We aren’t in sports or movies or television.  The mirror lets you see how you’re native.”

I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed many happy days at Inly, but this was one of the best. Tommy Orange radiates kindness and thoughtfulness from the second you meet him.  If you haven’t read There There yet, add it to your “to read” pile.

Happy Reading….